Fes was once the capitol of Morocco and is split into two parts: New Fes and Old Fes. New Fes is just like any major city, bustling with life and modern technology. Old Fes is just like every other medina. Since it houses the oldest university in the world (ya heard that, universities started in Africa, not Europe), it is one of the more ancient ones.
Fes also houses the golden doors and blue gates that always appear in guidebooks. Most recently it’s been put on the map because the King chose a wife from Fes, a computer scientist, and she is the first queen to appear in public. Hay girl hay!
However, since it is frequently visited as a tourist destination, I’m sure you’ve seen it in one movie or another, seent it all over The Gram, and have been dying, absolutely DYING to get here. Well, don’t die to get here. Actually just turn around.
Before Leaving America, The Language, and What to Pack
You can find someone who speaks your language, whatever language that may be. With that said, I heard mostly Moroccan Arabic being spoken on the streets.
You should pack mace to spray these street rat motherfuckers.
How To Get To Fes and How To Promptly Leave
You can access Fes by airport, but there are only direct flights from Europe at the time of this publication. You can also get here by train, bus, or private car. The ONCF train station is super modern and outside of the main city. Very clean and very reliable.
I got here by private car coming from the desert with a chauffeur (they usually come with the tour). But after dumping him, we left Fes by train. Check the ONCF website for times coming and going. My train ticket to Tangier to catch my flight was 160 dirham or $16 and to avoid having to trek outside of the city to buy it, the manager of my riad sent someone to buy it for us.
Where To Stay And What To Do In Fes
While I’m sure there are amazing things to do in Fes, I can’t recommend any because the street rats in this city were particularly heinous. By street rats, check my blog posts on Tangier or An Overview of Morocco to see what I’m talking about. They’re basically people who disguise themselves as genuinely trying to help you, but will then lead you down empty streets, demand money from you, and are aggressive af.
The hassling was unbearable. I pretty much locked myself in the BEST RIAD I STAYED AT IN THE ENTIRETY OF MOROCCO.
Mohammed is the manager of Riad Jamai. Firstly I’d like to say Mohammed was the first man in my month long stay in Morocco that did not try to grab my pussy. YASSSSS. Love you. Second of all, Mohammed and his riad was EVERYTHING I EXPECTED MOROCCO TO BE.
Upon entering the largest wooden doors I’d ever seen, I looked up to the expanse of this giant palace meeting sky. I mean, it seemed like a palace. Everything was so incredibly ornate that I couldn’t stop looking up and admiring the work that I had been wanting to see this entire time. As if it wasn’t dreamy enough, birds were fluttering in and out, and their songs were echoing off of the mosaic walls with a large pool glittering in the center.
Mohammed, with his permanent smile, offered us some of his personal stash of chocolate. Having not eaten this entire journey from desert to Fes, I was hungry but was super weary of what he was offering. After all the shit I had been through being sexually harassed and assaulted leading up until now, I didn’t trust anyone.
“How much?” I said. He laughed like I had just made a joke and left the chocolate on the table.
Then he said, “Come sit, I’d love to share my shisha.” Again, I was suspicious.
“How much?” I asked. Seriously, this guy never stops smiling, he just lit the coal and passed me a pipe.
He said, “You look cold, would you like a blanket?”
Ok, it was the moment. This was the moment he was gonna brush my leg and touch me inappropriately, just like all the other times, with all the other men. At least he offered me chocolate first, I thought. He didn’t touch me, but just put a folded blanket next to me for whenever I was ready to use it.
I looked at my travel partner and he looked at me, ready for the signal to leave. But I signaled to stand down. Then Mohammed introduced us to his cousin, Jamal (and overtime to his mom as well). And over shisha and chocolates, like a bad case of food poisoning, we vomited out all the things we experienced during our stay as they shook their heads and validated our feelings like our guardian angels sent from heaven.
On top of that, Jamal is a lowkey historian. He runs Dar Seffarine, #1 ranking riad on Trip Advisor, and holds a Masters degree. He is fluent in English, Spanish, French, and Arabic, and was able to answer any and all of my questions I had over Morocco that I had been dying to have answered. Unlike all of the other people I had asked, his information was completely factual, not made up myths to sell you things. (I Google everything.)
Every day when I would see him with this grand smile he would say, “Any more questions for me today? What shall we talk about? Art, history?” And I didn’t know this until I left, but he also gives historical tours of the city. Just from our conversations that have continued to present day, seven months after this trip, I can confidently say that I HIGHLY RECOMMEND HIM!
Mohammed not only fed us, clothed us, and shopped with us, he took care of every.single.part. of our stay. So much so that it made me slightly uncomfortable that I didn’t do anything for myself. He made me feel so safe in a country that I had not felt safe in for a very long time. At one point, he helped us for TWO HOURS trying to ship a bunch of items back to the States. Dripping sweat at the end of this packaging, taping, unraveling, drug-checking, 2-hour debacle of Moroccan post offices and customs papers, they said we could only pay in cash. Short about $150, Mohammed OFFERED TO PAY FOR IT HIMSELF. Obviously, we did not take him up on that offer, but like for real? He was going to spot us $150. I have friends that wouldn’t lend me that much money. His hospitality is unmatched and his friendship will always be cherished.
Wait, did I also mention that about two months after my trip, a follower of this blog messaged me asking for advice because she found herself in Fes, scared from the street harassment, and needed help. WHO DID I CALL? Mohammed. Who dropped everything and arranged to escort her through the streets the next day even though she wasn’t staying in his riad. I mean…I don’t know how much better of a person you can be.
But back to what you should do in Fes, the one thing I knew I HAD to see was the leather tannery. They are world-re-known and I wasn’t about to miss it. But it actually brings me to my next point…
What to Avoid in Fes
Chouara Tannery is where we went to watch the leather dyeing process from the balconies. This is actually a leather shop with an open air studio in the back that overlooks the tannery. The tannery itself was beautiful. The dyes are done by hand and you can see men jumping in and out of these massive dye containers. It is truly a spectacular site. The natural dye is made from earthly minerals along with pigeon poop and cow urine to set it, hence the foul smell. The smell actually wasn’t that bad. People are just dramatic about it and will hold mint leaves up to their nose.
How to get to the tanneries? Mohammed took us, but I’ve heard of people hiring guides to get there. I honestly would not have been able to find it myself and am so happy I had Mohammed there to protect us from the invasive street men. Entrance is free.
BUT, why to avoid it? We got kicked out.
Ok, before you think I am some sort of asshole, I legit just wanted to go H.A.M. on some leather goods. I had waited an entire month for this moment. I already knew what I wanted to buy. After picking out TEN leather items including suitcases and custom leather jackets (meaning we were ready to drop some serious cash and he should have come correct with his negotiation), the shop worker started charging us ridiculous prices we wouldn’t even pay in The States. Like RIDICULOUS.
But you know what? It is kind of part of the game. Fes was the last city on our itinerary, so by this time I was Master Level Medina Habibti. Since he started so high, we started low in order to meet somewhere in the middle. What I didn’t expect was him not to even counter offer. Instead of just saying no, he laughed at us, then ordered everyone else in the store to laugh at us, called me a Berber, and threw us out.
I mean, really? He could have just said no. Don’t worry. We would have gone to one of the 800 other leather shops in the city.
Luckily, Mohammed was with us and when we arrived back to our riad, he said he was shocked at how we were treated and what they were saying in Arabic behind our backs. He said he had never experienced that before. He explained that they knew that we knew what the items were worth and would not be fooled into being overcharged. And that the term “Berber” was implying I was a desert savage wild woman (I’m going to take that as a compliment even though it is racist in nature).
But the oddest part of all was the rude man at Dar Chouara called our riad and tried to negotiate over the phone, asking us to come back. UH NO, too late, already bought all of our shit from his competitor. So yea, if some guy wearing a New York hat makes a joke about pigeon poop and Chanel, just walk away and buy from someone else.
Which actually leads to my next point, the markets in Fes were 100 times more expensive than the nine other major cities we traveled to. And the merchants try to play you for a fool, but not even politely. We know negotiations are part of the trade (read more at How Not To Shop In Morocco Like A Basic Bitch), yet instead of negotiation, if they don’t like your initial start point, they ask you to get the fuck out of their shop. I could totally understand this if I was being rude, disrespectful, spitting in their face, slapping their children, or something like that; but instead of simply counter offering, they’d just rather you remove yourself. I did not understand this pattern since their starting prices were insane, and was surely thinking no one would pay that.
What do you mean by insane, exactly? For example, a carpet negotiation started at $10,000. DA FUC?! In Tangier, for the biggest most expensive carpet they had, prices started at $1500. In the desert, prices started at $1000. So how are you just gonna jump to 10Gs, bro? Like, I thought he was speaking in dirham. But he said American Dollars and shipping was included. K, I could buy an entire ship and a carpet for that price. Bye.
Life & Culture of Fes
So after that story, I am clearly not the person to give any advice on Fes. The best I can do is direct you to the two people I trust to do that. Riad Jamai and Jamal’s historical tours are the only things I could solidly stand behind. Mohammed said to text him on Whatsapp directly for a faster and more personalized response if you’d like to book with him. His phone number is (+212) 675-4714-82. Jamal also said he prefers a more personal interaction to tailor to your needs. His number is (+212) 600-1901-26 and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I abandoned the city of Fes itself, and just spent my time smoking shisha and playing Moroccan board games with Mohammed, Jamal, and their friends. At one point literally arguing about who was gonna pay for drinks and the taxi ride home. (They wanted to pay because they invited us. Of course, we wouldn’t let them.) Seriously, the nicest best guys I could ever meet and wish I had met them sooner. They were the best part of Morocco and I wouldn’t trade my experience with them for anything.
Oh, and the leather jackets. You can customize the color, style, fit, zipper, embellishments, anything! Basically, be your own designer. Behind Mohammed and Jamal, that was my second favorite thing about Fes.
Disclaimer: This in no way describes all of the Moroccan people or Morocco as a country and should not be used as a tool for generalizing. This was just my experience in Fes.